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250                                                                                                                  B. POLEVOI
food for himself, persistently invited him to dinner; but he
knew how hard the old people toiled on their tiny vege-
table patch beneath the windows, how precious every
onion and every carrot was to them, and how, like little
sister and brother sharing some sweetmeat, they shared
their bread ration every morning; and so he cheerfully
told them that to avoid the bother of cooking he now
dined at an officers' messroom.
Saturday came, the day on which Anyuta—whom he had
telephoned every evening to report on the unsatisfactory
state of his affairs—would be relieved from duty. He
resolved to take a desperate step. In his kit-bag he still
had his father's old silver cigarette case with a niello
design of a sleigh drawn by three dashing horses
on the corner, and bearing on the inside the in-
scription: "On your silver wedding. From your friends."
Alexei did not smoke, but his mother had slipped this
precious family relic into his pocket when he had left
home for the front, and he had kept the heavy, clumsy
thing all the time, putting it into his pocket "for luck"
when going on a flight. He fished the cigarette case out
of his kit-bag and took it to the commission shop.
A thin woman, smelling of moth-balls, turned the ciga-
rette case in her hands, pointed to the inscription with a
bony finger and declared that articles bearing an inscrip-
tion were not accepted for sale.
"But I'm not asking much for it. Name your own
"No, no, and besides, Comrade Officer, I should think
it's too early for you to accept gifts for your silver wed-
ding," the moth-ball woman remarked caustically, glanc-
ing up at Alexei with hostile, colourless eyes.
Flushing hotly, the airman snatched the cigarette case
up from the counter and made for the exit. Somebody
stopped him by his arm, breathing the heavy smell of
wine into his ear.
"Quite a nice-looking little thing you've got there.
Cheap, did you say?" asked a man with an ugly, unshaved
face and a prominent blue nose. He stretched out a sin-
ewy trembling hand towards the cigarette case. "Massive.
Out of respect for a hero of the Patriotic War, I'll give
you five 'greys' for it."